Horse Girl Review: A mind-bending and wild trip down the rabbit hole
After having some fun with emotionally unstable nuns in The Little Hours, writer/director Jeff Baena and Alison Brie reteam for something serious as their newest film, Horse Girl, and send viewers on a wild and mind-bending trip down the rabbit hole.
The film follows Sarah (Brie), a shy and socially awkward girl who only has a fondness for arts and crafts, Zumba, horses, and supernatural crime shows. However, after a series of lucid dreams and blackouts that have her waking up in strange places, Sarah begins to lose her grip on reality and wonder if there’re outside forces causing these strange instances. She begins to notice strange coincidences that not only connect her daily life to the strange dreams she’s been having, but also her family’s traumatic past. So, as she tries to piece together everything she’s experiencing, Sarah slowly goes down a downward spiral that makes her question what’s real and what isn’t.
Brie owns every second she’s on-screen and her commitment to all the bonkers moments that come from Sarah slowly losing her grip on reality. She makes the introverted, timid personality of Sarah both incredibly believable and oddly intriguing. At first, Sarah seems shy and uneventful, but Brie really brings her out of her shell as things get crazier and you grow this odd connection with her through all the strange things happening. Even in moments where her awkwardness is so strong that it actually gives you anxiety, like when she’s developing a relationship with Darren (John Reynolds) or really all of her social interactions, you never feel turned off by her and oddly become more invested in her journey. This investment is in big part to how personal Brie’s performance is and it’s certainly one of the compelling aspects of the film’s complicated story.
In the first act and most of the second, the film’s narrative, co-written by Baena and Brie, is actually very intriguing as we watch her piece together everything that’s happening. The way the film constantly pulls the rug out from under viewers through having Sarah experience immense time loss, that ranges from hours to days, and how certain details and people from her dreams start to appear in her reality. As new details come into play, it’s hard not become more and more invested into figuring out what’s happening to Sarah. As things get crazier, you can’t help but feel like you’re falling down the same mind-bending rabbit hole that Sarah is and the other technical aspects that Baena build on the creepiness and shocking elements of the narrative. The blinding white landscape that Sarah continuously finds herself in is incredibly creepy and the use of voices that Sarah thinks she’s hearing, transitions that seamlessly place her in different places, and the creepy figures that Sarah sees in her dreams creates this eerie vibe that stay consistent through the whole experience. Not to mention, the score from Josiah Steinbrick and Jeremy Zuckerman adds to the eeriness and creates this sci-fi mystery tone to the whole film.
Between all the weirdness, is a very compelling story about mental illness and conspiracy theories that stem from Sarah uncovering what is happening to her. As Sarah rolls through different theories, that range from her believing that she’s a clone of her grandma to possibly being an alien abductee, you sort of find yourself doing the same. In the same vein as David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake, Horse Girl fulfills any conspiracy theorist’s fantasies and for the moments where things hold together – it’s pretty fascinating to watch Sarah’s obsession grow. There’re also interesting moments where her family’s history of mental illness comes into play and it plays an integral role of questioning what’s really happening with Sarah. In most other films, Sarah would easily be just labeled as crazy and likely end up with the same fate that Sarah describes her grandmother and mother going through – being left on the streets or committing suicide. However, there’s a very empathetic view of Sarah’s descent, especially in her conversations with a therapist (Jay Duplass) that’s really unique and it makes the narrative a very effective view of mental illness that will leave you thinking.
However, the film’s final act kind of takes things a little too far over the edge and even though the strangeness of every that’s happening is interesting to watch, it leaves you a little disconnected. Now, when I tell you that things get crazy in the final act of this movie – it’s like totally bonkers. When Sarah is basically left to mentally just lose it, the film becomes a little too tough to figure out and over-complicates its blurred lines of reality. It’s hard to make anything of it and even though there’s some comfort to find in Sarah finding solace, there’s very little solace to find in the entire experience. In short, everything you think you have a grip on goes out the window and you’re left with very little satisfaction or much to take away because of how far things go.
Horse Girl is certainly a trippy, intriguing, and compelling watch that will please most viewers, especially those looking for a career-best performance from Brie, but is ultimately becomes lost in its own craziness. It’s certainly one of the most unique, and important, depictions of mental illness I’ve seen recently, and it makes you wonder what Baena and Brie will do next.